Thursday, 9 September 2010

Love in the Making by Roisin Meaney, Hachette Ireland

Real romance?
True love in all its forms and varieties. Hannah is about to open a cupcake shop -
What? Why?
It’s not the same way it takes all of us. Anyway. About to open her shop, when her utterly romantic, adoring boyfriend, Patrick, ditches her for a pregnant Other Woman.
Doesn’t sound that romantic to me
Kind of guy who brings you to the airport to meet a flight and whisks you away to Paris. Or in this case, whisks himself away to live with a masseuse.
Ooh, I see his point
Tut, you have no heart. Hannah, stunned with grief, sets up in business, baking pink cupcakes to soothe her troubled heart and feed her hungry customers. And Adam -
Who he?
Hannah’s best friend and non-romantic love - Adam moves in with her.
And they fall in love?
Not my job to tell you that, honeykins. I will say this - it’s a village story, so there are different storylines twining and twirling. There’s the shy, strict-looking clarinet player who’s wooed by -
Who? Who?
Whoops! Nearly told you. The ubiquitous taxi driver who’ll be a love interest. The sexy Scottish sax-playing carpenter who fancies Hannah. Seven months later, life has changed for everyone.
Plenty going on there
Too much at times - there’s a drunken car crash subplot that seems to have been imported from a completely different book. But it’s all as heartwarming as a cupcake sprinkled with silver spangles.
What’d she write before?
Kerry-born ex-teacher Roisin has six adult books and two for kids, selling worldwide in various languages. The Last Week of May, The People Next Door and Half Seven on a Thursday were all Irish bestsellers.
Worth a read, so?
Definitely - if you’re off to the beaches of Marbella or the dentists of Mardyke, bring this with you and sink into a world of sweetness where the good are rewarded and the bad get their comeuppance.
Author's site

The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell, Knopf

Eh? China? Wallander?
You’re right, m’dear, this is by Henning Mankell, who writes those gloomy Swedish thrillers about depressed detective Kurt Wallander - but this time his lead is a woman and his villain Chinese.
A copper?
Not as such. Judge Birgitta Roslin, loosely associated with an extended family wiped out in a remote hamlet on the border between Norway and Sweden.
How loosely?
Her mammy was fostered by a couple now in the far reaches of antiquity, who are among the 19 members of the Andren clan to be sliced and diced. The police have a theory. Birgitta soon has a different one.
But Beijing? What? Where?
Meanwhile in Beijing’s wealthiest sector, a super-powerful industrialist is reading the diary of his ancestor, who was enslaved. The foreman of the railroad gang that destroyed his life was one Jan August Andren.
Straightforward revenge story then?
Indeed no - this is Mankell. Darker forces are at work. In Africa, the Chinese (nervous of internal revolution, as why wouldn’t they be) are preparing a plantation - they want to ship in millions of poor Chinese farmers.
To Africa? You’re joking?
They’re persuading the African leaders that it’s going to benefit their own people, because schools, hospitals, roads, telecommunications, etc will follow the planters to sparsely populated areas.
Mankell’s making this all up out of his head?
Hope so. Unnervingly, he has inside knowledge of Africa - the author lives part of his time in Mozambique.
It’s linked to the killings how?
The psycho who sent the killer is high up in China’s elite. And - well, read it for yourself.
Good, then?

Very good at times, but Mankell has trouble keeping all the themes - murder, Maoist theory, modern Chinese emigration, 19th-century exploitation - from spinning out of control.
Author's site

Horns by Joe Hill, Gollancz

Horny, eh?
Not like that. Ignatius Perrish wakes up after a night when he did ‘terrible things’, and finds horns growing on his head.
Not a good look
Actually, nobody notices. Except that they want to tell him their darkest desires and get his permission to do bad things. Like give that screeching kid one good slap.
Ig’s a bad boy?
Son of a legendary musician, brother of a TV star, he’s grown up in wealth and privilege. But Ig’s the kind of sweet innocent who is a beacon of truth. In fact, his evil friend Lee Tourneau - our villain - lives his life by thinking ‘WWID’ - What Would Ig Do - and mimicking his behaviour.
A good villain’s important
Lee Tourneau’s native water is deception. And there’s others: a few nasty cops. And Ig’s family don’t come too well out of it. Lots of badness.
And Ig…?
Everyone in town thinks Ig raped and murdered his girlfriend, Merrin, when she tried to break up with him.
What’s this girlfriend like?
They meet in church, where the pretty redhead flashes a message in Morse code using the gold cross she wears.
Small-town life, then?
All kinds of strange, dreamy magic happens, at the same time as a townie childhood of jokes and japes. Hill writes beautifully about the secret life of kids - the wild, dangerous things they do without their parents ever knowing. And about treachery.
Then he turns into Satan?
Kind of. But still a sweet guy. Hill, the writer of Heart-Shaped Box - a big hit last year (and Neil Jordan is going to film it) - and the Locke & Key comics, brings his reader on a hold-tight ride through the story.
Serious stuff?
With some jokes that make you burst out laughing. And a great story, with a spiralling series of shocking twists at the end that leave you open-mouthed and going “Wow!”.
A buy?
A definite buy.
Author's site

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Room by Emma Donoghue, Picador

Kidnapped and hidden? Like that Austrian kid?
Like Elisabeth Fritzl in Austria and Jaycee Lee Dugard in America and Deirdre Crowley in Ireland, the girl in Emma Donoghue’s Booker-shortlisted bestseller Room has been kidnapped and hidden.
It’s what they call their little world. Five-year-old Jack and his mother, Ma, live in Room, among their friends - Rug and Wardrobe (where Jack hides when the kidnapper Old Nick might come), and Meltedy Spoon and Lamp.
Oh, sad
Ma turns the lamp on and off at night, trying to signal through the skylight. They watch TV - but not too much because it rots your brain - they was their hands, and wash their teeth after every meal.
Trying to be a good mother?
Making a pretty good fist of it too. But Jack - though he’s super-bright, has a huge vocabulary and understands a lot about the mysterious world outside, and everything about their own Room-world - is a weird little kid.
They’re in Room for the whole story?
No, halfway through they work out an escape plan. It’s not spoiling the story to tell you this - you can look forward to it, in fact. It’s the best part of the book, sheer terror.
So they’re happy then?
Ah no - this is where Emma Donoghue - a fabulous writer, this is her seventh book - gets her teeth into western society. Ma and Jack become celebrities, in the same way that Jaycee and Elisabeth did, and she agrees to go on TV.
Not so bad?
They need the money - this is America; they have to pay for hospital, and have to save for their college fees. Ma was a 19-year-old student when she was snatched; now, at 27, she wants to study again.
So they’re stars?
The media treat them like freaks: “The despot’s victims appear to be in a catatonic state,” one newspaper blared; the TV show host probes droolingly, is it true that Ma still breastfeeds Jack. “In this whole story,” Ma asks mockingly, “that’s the shocking detail?”
Eww. But they now have a family?
Kind of. Some of that is traumatic - Jack’s grandfather is sickened by the sight of him. Some is very funny, like Jack’s first day out shopping with his uncle and cousins.
A buy?
A definite buy. A brilliant book, moving, true, funny, desolate and unmissable.

Video of Emma Donoghue talking about Room

Monday, 6 September 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger, Jonathan Cape

Evil twins?
Eerie twins anyway: Elspeth and Edie, identical and inseparable, had a catastrophic row sometime in the 1980s. Edie, it seems, split for Chicago and married Jack, father of her twins, Julie and Valentina.
Wow, twins within twins
And wheels within wheels. Elspeth dies, and leaves her flat beside Highgate Cemetery in London to her nieces. So Julie and Valentina head for London, to live in the flat for a year.
Oooh, wish someone would do that for me
Careful what you wish for, babes. Elspeth isn’t a very nice person. The girls move in. Upstairs are Martin and Marijke, downstairs is Robert, who was Elspeth’s lover.
All pair off neatly?
Not so. Martin suffers terribly from obsessive-compulsive disorder, and as we meet her, Marijke is leaving him because she can’t stand to live this way - she can’t even enter the flat without platic bags over her feet.
Bags? What?
To keep the place super-clean. Meanwhile, Robert - much younger than his late lover, and haunted by the astonishing similarity between the new twins and Elspeth, is fascinated by them.
Good thing she can’t see that
Ah, but she can. Elspeth has awoken as a ghost in the flat. And from then on it gets weirder and weirder. Niffenegger, author of cult bestseller The Time Traveler’s Wife (Now a Major Movie) and other hits, knows how to spring a stunning surprise.
And does it end happily?
It does. A wonderful ending - though it comes after quite a long saggy time in the middle of the book where I was muttering “Ah, get on with it”.
And shockingly?
Certainly that. You’ll puff out your cheeks and go “Whoo, wasn’t expecting that at several points.
Good characters?
I particularly liked the Little Kitten of Death, a feral white kitten that comes in from the graveyard and is captured by the ghost and the twins. And the cemetery staff are nice old codgers.

Becoming Scarlett by Ciara Geraghty, Hachette Books

Scarlett O’Hara, no less. Daughter of retired actor (resting, dahling) Declan O’Hara, heartthrob of ladies of a certain age. And now staring in horror at the blue stick of a pregnancy test.
She doesn’t want a baby?
She’s all on her owney-o, after her beloved - plain-speaking John Smith - left her, the rat. And as it rapidly transpires, she’s not absitively sure who’s the father-to-be of the sprog-to-be.
Ouch! How so?
She had a little pity party, during which she was comprehensively pitied by -
Don’t tell me: Rhett Butler?
Close. Daniel Butler, universally known as Red Butler for his flaming hair. And soon to meet Scarlett again under circs embarrassing enough to make both of them live up to their names.
Who wrote it, btw?
Dubliner Ciara Geraghty, rumoured to have a six-figure deal with Hachette for two books, Saving Grace (her first, about a girl who falls for the office geek) and Becoming Scarlett.
How does this Scarlett make the redsers?
A popular job in chicklit: she’s a wedding planner. Now working on the ‘Smithson-Carling wedding’. High-end. Martello towers. Glam. And she’s in line for promotion.
All going well, then?
Hmm, not quite. The boss’s lover is also in line for that promotion. And no partner to help Scarlett raise the sproglet. So organised organiser Scarlett, determined not to have her five-year plan thrown out of synch, heads for the abortion boat.
Not! In a chicky book?
When she faints at the airport, disaster strikes… but I won’t spoil it for you.
Worth it, then?
Quirky characters - love the chip-shop heiress who’s one of Scarlett’s clients - heartrending turnarounds, and an ending that’s far from traditional. The supporting actors - including dad Declan and mammy Maureen, his femme fatale muse - are charming.
Publisher's site

Plum Spooky by Janet Evanovich, Headline Review

Haunting and deathless?
Neither. Stephanie Plum, heroine of the world’s best-selling comedy mystery series, is hunting a paranormal murderer. Or maybe he’s hunting her.
Paranormal how?
Gerwulf Grimoire likes to kill people by wrenching their heads around backwards and leaving a burned-in mark of his hand on them. Disappears in a cloud of smoke.
But Plum has the help of Diesel, Wulf’s cousin, who’s just as paranormal, and has the hots for her. And there’s a monkey.
And monkey business?
Plum, oddly, never seems to get any except from her long-suffering cop boyfriend, Joe Morelli. But Joe is currently babysitting a cousin of his own, who’s been thrown out by the wife.
But this monkey?
Carl is a monkey who’s all too like a small boy. He spends most of the action playing Mario Brothers, when he’s not intervening to save Plum from the villains.
These villains…
Wulf is truly evil. He’s bankrolling the weather experiments of nerdy Martin Munch - together they hope to blackmail governments by threatening them with demonic storms.
Explain again why Plum’s involved?
Ah. Yes. Plum is a bounty-hunter - her job is to bring in folks who’ve forgotten to appear for their court dates. She has two big jobs on at the moment: Munch, who’s disappeared with his employer’s caesium vapour magnometer, and Gordon Bollo, who’s run over his ex-wife’s new husband. Twice.
All is clear
And the monkey was doorstepped on her by a former client, who is on her honeymoon. Quite normal.
Good fun?
Goodish. Starts strong, some very funny moments, but towards the end you get the feeling that Evanovich is thoroughly sick of Stephanie Plum and all to do with her. Which is fine, because there’s going to be a movie soon, starring Katherine Heigl. Now that should be fun.
Author's site